Things Ifve Done You Might Not Have
Gave Darth Vader a ride in my Volvo (specifically, actor Dave Prowse.)
Was frequently hit up for paper clips by Stan Lee when his office was next to mine
Sang songs before an audience dressed as an owl
Was cursed by Richard Pryor
Worked at a bank robbed at gunpoint three times during my tenure there
Ate goose sashimi
(no, not that Darth Vader)
Received an unsolicited hug from Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul & Mary (it was pleasant enough, however)
Flew the same British Airways flight, aboard the very same plane, later blown up by terrorists over Lockerbie, Scotland
Have a father who is an admitted grave-robber (albeit from a pet cemetery)
Received a Christmas card from Akira Kurosawa
Helped an elderly Chuck Jones up a flight of steps by supporting his left arm; his right arm was supported by Joeseph Barbera
Went to one of the very last tapings of THE TONIGHT SHOW with Johnny Carson
Was invited to lunch by Ronald Neame, Ray Stark, and Richard Flesicher, and shared a so-called "Valusian feast" with Harlan Ellison
Helped medicate a sick alligator
Watched the giant prehistoric monster Gamera destroy the City of Sapporo, Japan -- in person
Lived next door to a neighbor who had been dead for a week before his body was discovered (it was a hot summer andcwell, never mind)
Was a defendant on Judge Judy (I won)
Have held an Oscar (specifically, an honorary one given to Edward G. Robinson) and the original King Kong armature
Within 90 minutes, John Mills grabbed me by the collar, shared a drink with Jean Simmons, was told by Stella Stevens that I was too tall, and made Anne Bancroft and husband Mel Brooks smile
Deposited a check for $16 million dollars (It wasnft mine, and it was good)
Robert Zemeckis handed me my Masterfs Degree. Later that same day I saw Michael Eisner, curiously ignored by everyone around him, leaning against a Dumpster
Appeared on a Japanese game show
Lost 18 lbs. in a single day
...and how about you?
It's been an age, I know -- but hey, I've been busy. Good busy.
Last week I was in the studio recording my commentary track for Monster Zero, only now it's officially going by the name Invasion of Astro-Monster. The recording took two days (about seven hours in all), partly because I was also in there recording narration for a featurette on the history of Toho Studios, as well as answers to Steve Ryfle's questions for what I assume will be more of a group-commentary approach for the DVD of Gigantis the Fire Monster (now called Godzilla Raids Again).
I think my work on Invasion of Astro-Monster went well. I'm really looking forward to hearing the commentaries by colleagues Ed Godziszewski (on Godzilla vs. the Thing), David Kalet (Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster), Richard Pusateri (Godzilla's Revenge) and Bob Johnson (Terror of Mechagodzilla). What's kind of neat is that everyone brings their own areas of interest and expertise. Ed, I assume, will go into a lot more detail on the special effects; David may offer a more literary reading and put his title into a more socio-political perspective; Richard's, I suspect, will be more personal, more of a fan's perspective, functioning much like Bill Warren's essential Keep Watching the Skies!
As for mine, I'd say my emphasis has been more on trying to put the film into perspective insofar as what was going on in the Japanese film industry at the time by talking about what other projects the film's key personnel were working on adjacent to Astro-Monster, what films were popular in Japan that year, and so on, as well as offer a lot of biographical sketches of some of the leading and supporting actors and key staff.
When it rains it pours. Almost simultaneously, I finished writing an essay for an upcoming (but as yet unannounced, so don't bother asking me what it is) Criterion DVD, while two back-to-back invitations to work on new DVD projects turned up right before I settled down to write this long overdue blog entry. More on those once they're official.
...And have you seen that great footage of SPFX Pioneer Eiji Tsuburaya on the set, directing War of the Gargantuas? Check it out here:
A little venting here. After first learning about the earthquake in Indonesia (5,000+ already confirmed dead) I flipped on CNN and BBC looking for news. For several days. Every time I turned to these channels, I got everything but news. A golf show. A boating show. Larry King being interviewed on Larry King (I'm not kidding.) Promos for "Chasing Angelina [Jolie]," a SPECIAL REPORT about celebrity photographers' efforts to shoot the famous celebrity. And educators wonder why so many Americans can't find Indonesia (or America) on a map of the world.
CNN Hard at Work
My dear old pal Chris Potter sent me this warning concerning United 93 (he got the title confused):
I just got out of "Flight 93." I have no idea whether it's playing in Japan yet, but for god's sake DO NOT see it. It's liable to send you screaming out of the theater, and by no means just because of your fear of flying. (Although it makes "Alive!" look like a cartoon by comparison).
This is the first time I've seen a film I'd call dangerous to one's health, mentally and even physically. And ironically, that's because it's made so infernally well: "Flight 93" is a great motion picture, and I wouldn't recommend it to my worst enemy.
Make no mistake: This flick puts you INTO that ill-fated airline, side-by-side those luckless, courageous, doomed 9/11 passengers, and there is NO way out. None at all. It's the most claustrophobic film imaginable, yet that's part of it's brilliance. It exudes a narcotic effect even as it's pulverizing you. Part of me wanted to bolt the theater, yet there was no way I could stop watching.
The final five minutes of "Flight 93" are the most horrifying I've ever seen on a movie screen, just unbearable, unimaginable. Then end of the world up close and personal. I wanted to hold my hands in front of my face, somehow block off the images. But at the same time I was mesmerised: I had to see what was happening even though I was almost blinded by tears.
I left the theater traumatized. I don't know if others reacted the same way, but there were only about a dozen people watching it with me. I have a feeling nobody wants to see this film -- and they're dead right. Even though I'd unhesitatingly call "Flight 93" the best motion picture of our still-infant millennium, I'm truly sorry I saw it. I feel scarred. I feel angry at the people who made it. For the first time I believe it's possible for a motion picture to be TOO well made, that the highest levels of artistry can be employed to create something evil, even if that wasn't anyone's intention.
Maybe a hundred years from now, when everyone who lived through 9/11 is dead, it'll be possible for viewers to come to terms with this flick.
But not now. The wounds are too fresh, and this film has the power to flay them wide open. My advice to you, my friend, is don't get within a mile of any theater that's showing "Flight 53." Come any closer and you may feel tainted.
I have no interest in seeing it, but good intentions or no, it strikes me as yet one more example of Hollywood's ongoing fascination with what some people are calling, perhaps appropriately "death porn."
If you haven't seen it already, you MUST visit the TV Academy's website that's home to John Frankenheimer discusses directing... well, I'll let him surprise you. So funny I almost peed my pants.
(Note: He starts right into it as soon as you click the link and the video is buffered. The whole story runs about 15 minutes....)
Lots of movies to talk about but it's now well past 2:00am here in Darkest Kyoto. More soon.
A new month and another blog entry. One of the best discoveries over the past month has been Doctor Who, the new series which I picked up a few months early thanks to Amazon Canada.
I'm very much a newcomer to the Doctor Who universe, having become enamored of the original 1963-1989 series only last year, though I've seen scattered episodes since the '70s. I imagine this new series has longtime fans doing back flips of ecstasy, while those who passed on the old series are being sucked in by the thousands.
It's really a phenomenal show, the best sci-fi/fantasy series in many years, at least judging by the first three episodes I've seen so far, which admirably were completely different from one another in terms of story, setting, and tone. The show is very clever, funny, suspenseful and scary, all while raising the kind of thought-provoking questions about life and the universe in the finest tradition of classy science fiction. It's well-produced, superbly acted, the characters are rich and interesting -- just about everything works wonderfully well.
I can easily see the series becoming an international pop culture phenomenon if it's marketed properly.
Another series I've been watching is The Rockford Files, which I haven't seen in many years, probably not since it was syndicated in the early-1980s, though I did catch the pilot back in 2003 when I was visiting the folks back in Michigan. (My father, incidentally, was also a big fan of the series. He seems to prefer reading and other activities to watching television and, as far as I know, The Rockford Files is still the only series he ever, EVER made a point to watch every week.)
Of course, the show is built around star James Garner's genial, roguish screen persona, but the writing is very good, too, in the best tradition of Chandler and Hammett: it feels authentic in a way that Universal-produced detective series never are, and flip-flops genre expectations in interesting ways.
Can't recommend the BFI's new DVD of the original, Japanese version of Gojira highly enough. Beyond the good transfer of decent film elements, the audio commentary tracks with Steve Ryfle, Ed Godziszewski, and Keith Aiken are just great. They hit exactly the right notes, giving the viewer precisely the right mix of historical background, production information, trivia, and biographical data with an informed enthusiasm that's neither fannish nor pretentious.
I particularly liked Ed's commentary on two supplements that detail the evolution of the script and the Godzilla costume. Pal Steve told me later that Ed actually wrote those commentaries very quickly, the night before the recording, but knew his material so well that it just flowed out like tap water. Maybe so, but the end result is incredibly informative and interesting. Great job, guys!
Another delight has been my daily 2-reel comedy with Buster Keaton. I've been working my way through Buster's Columbia shorts, made in the late-1930s/early-'40s. Admittedly these shorts aren't nearly up to the level of Keaton's great silent comedies, but the best ones are a lot better than their reputation would suggest.
Pest from the West (1939) is the most famous one, but I consider it only fair. The ones I've most liked so far, Nothing But Pleasure and Pardon My Berth Marks (both 1940) for example, are a peculiar meshing of Buster's silent persona with Jules White-supervised/Columbia house style comedy, which at times mix like oil and water, but the results are surprisingly funny. Even the worst shorts (and a couple of them are downright awful) have at least a flash or two of inspired comedy. Pardon My Berthmarks, for instance, has one sublime moment after Buster pulls the emergency cord in a sleeper car, and does this sensationally funny take pretending to be thrown backwards by the braking train -- a reaction all the more remarkable when you realize the set probably sat rock still.
The DVD includes commentaries for each short of varying quality (some are excellent), as well as a reproduction of one of the scripts with Buster's hand-written annotations. Another surprise is the extremely high quality of the film transfers: they look far superior to the Three Stooges shorts of similar vintage. They're so good you can see all kinds of little details you don't get with the Stooges' comedies, and many of that series' regulars (Vernon Dent, Bud Jamison, Dorothy Appleby, etc.) appear here, too.
Here's hoping the Buster set does well. I'd dearly like to see a similar set of Charley Chase's Columbia two-reelers, especially The Heckler (1940), one of the funniest two-reel comedies I've ever seen.
As usual, a busy mix of movies, writing, and other business. Finally caught up with the last part of the Soviet-made War and Peace, whose unequalled scale is matched only by its intimacy and cinematic virtuosity. Needless to say, this frame grab doesn't do it any justice.
Recently watched the British DVD of The Incredible Shrinking Man, which has thankfully been properly formatted for 16:9 widescreen, the first of Universal's '50s sci-fi films to be released this way, and perhaps a sign that future releases will be formatted correctly as well. The movie looks far better properly matted, though I was slightly disappointed by the graininess of the image; I wonder if the original negative is either lost or too damaged to use.
Coincidentally, Gary Teetzel emailed me this report on The Incredible Shrinking Girl: "I recently read Richard Matheson's unproduced script THE FANTASTIC LITTLE GIRL, the proposed sequel to THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN. For anyone
curious about what happened to Scott and Louise Carey, here's a synopsis:
A couple of months after the end of the first film, Louise Carey moves back into her old house and reveals to her brother-in-law that she has started to shrink, having somehow "caught" the condition from long-term exposure to Scott. She seems fatalistic, almost wanting to go through the ordeal her husband suffered. Her brother-in-law persuades her to see Dr. Silver (played by Raymond Bailey in the first film), who gives her a version
of Scott's antitoxin that he assures her has been improved. (Have they had other shrinking people to work on?) Silver and an unsympathetic nurse move into the house to monitor Louise.
By page 20, Louise is living in the dollhouse. For reasons that remain vague, she's convinced that Scott is alive and becomes determined to explore the basement. She hides a bit of bread and water down there and manages to slip away from the nurse and Dr. Silver. She finds the dead spider and concludes Scott must have killed it. When she's small enough she goes outside and is promptly captured by a crow, but a cat attacks the bird, forcing it to drop Louise. Louise shrinks to microscopic size and is reunited with Scott.
Matheson does not describe the microscopic world in any detail; he simply says that Scott lives in a cave of some sort in a forest, and there is a nearby source of water. There's also a monster that Matheson doesn't describe except to say it has pincers and a horrible mouth. (In most shots we only hear the monster, or see from its point of view.) Scott sets up a trap to kill the monster, but both end up tumbling over a waterfall. Scott is only saved when an eel-monster kills his foe.
Both Scott and Louise start to get larger. When big enough, they start heading across the yard back to the house, evading a beetle and one or two other bugs. It starts to rain, so the two take shelter inside a flower. The next day, Scott converts it into a boat and they make it back to the basement. They can't find the bread Louise left, and climb down to the floor, thinking it may have fallen. They find the bread, but discover it is being hoarded by a rat. They hide in the matchbox.
Knowing they must have food, Scott attacks the rat with matches while Louise grabs as much bread as she can. Scott is seriously wounded, and barely makes it back to the matchbox. Within a couple of days the food is gone and Scott is delirious. Needing something to keep Scott warm, Louise makes her way to a box and grabs a bit of rag, plus a knitting needle that she sharpens into a lance. The rat attacks, but she fends it off.
Desperate for food, Louise tries again for the bread. She's attacked again. Scott,
somewhat recovered, hears her scream and comes to her rescue, finally killing the rat. The script ends with them about 4" tall, going up the stairs to live in the dollhouse until they are full size again.
Matheson clearly thought the sequel was to be a low-budget affair, since the script it designed to re-use sets and props from the first film, and even includes no less than three flashbacks to the original. In the opening page where Matheson lists the characters, he describes Scott Carey has having been psychologically scarred by his ordeal and his isolation, and that he has a hard time reconnecting with Louise. Sounds interesting, but none of that is in the script!
All in all, it's probably best that this wasn't produced."
Thanks Gary -- fascinating stuff!
Speaking of '50s science fiction, Steve Ryfle is kindly sending me his extra copy of the BFI's new DVD of Godzilla (Gojira), for which he and Ed Godziszewski and Keith Aiken contributed an audio commentary. I've heard nothing but great things about their work -- I heard Steve once on NPR's Fresh Air and he came off as effortlessly articulate, so I'm pretty sure it's going to be great.
Finished Day of the Triffids the other day -- Wow! What a great series: exciting, intelligent...and impressively scary and disturbing. This is one of the reasons to get that region-free player, folks.
...and another is this great series. I've been reviewing Tora-san movies over at DVD Talk for some time. I get fewer hits on those reviews than just about anything, but I don't care -- If I can turn on even a few people to this wonderful, wonderful film series, then I've done my job.
Did I mention that the wife and I are working are way through "The Up Series?" For those unaware, this is a series of British television documentaries that began in 1964 when a group of 7-year-olds from myriad backgrounds -- rich and poor, urban and rural, etc. -- were interviewed at length about a wide range of topics. Since then every seven years director Michael Apted has sought them out to see if and how these children have changed as they became teenagers, young adults, and enter middle-age. (They're now about 50.) This series is absolutely fascinating and one-of-a-kind. A real must-see.
Picked up a Japanese DVD (no English subtitles, alas) of one of my all-time personal favorites, Las Vegas Free-for-All (1967), a wild epic comedy starring Japan's Crazy Cats comedy team, a sort of Japanese cross between Spike Jones' band and the Marx Bros. The film is similar to It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), with stars Hitoshi Ueki, Hajime Hana, and Kei Tani traveling to Waikiki, Los Angeles, and finally Las Vegas. In the film's great musical extravaganza, the trio (joined by the four other members of the team) sing and dance past all of old-time casinos, much to the bewilderment of the American gamblers (and, according to Ueki when I interviewed him, the anger of the Vegas Mob, who were none-too-happy that people were leaving their slot machines to check out the strange Japanese crew!). Mie Hama and gaijin actors Peggy Neal, George Furness and others co-star in this amazing movie, which I wish someone would pick up for release in America.
In the meantime, here's a frame-grab (from the old laserdisc; sorry about the poor quality) from the big showstopper, with The Peanuts:
And a bit of trivia: In the Hawaii montage there's a shot of an extra that's clearly a very young Barry Williams of Brady Bunch fame. No Bette Midler, though.
Link of the Day: Excerpts from the Star Wars workprint!
Been busy on a massive project (more about which soon) that's been taking up 10-12 hours/day on top of my usual work the last two weeks, but I've still found time to watch some great DVDs, if often during the wee hours of the morning.
Here are two titles featuring Popeye, sort of. For ages I've been wishing for a (first) laserdisc boxed set and (later on) a DVD collection of the Max & Dave Flesicher "Popeye" cartoons. Back in the 1930s when everyone was imitating Disney (including, for the most part, Warner Bros.), the Flesicher cartoons -- Betty Boop, Koko the Clown and, later on, Superman -- were unique with a wonderful, whimsical and sometimes perverse sense of humor unlike anything before or since. Mackinac Media's release gathers those Popeyes that have fallen into public domain as other labels have done, but unlike everyone else has put a lot of TLC into this release, tracking down the best-looking versions of Customers Wanted, Popeye meets Sinbad the Sailor I've ever seen, topping it off with tons of extra features, including interviews with Jack Mercer, Mae Questel and the other voice actors. Best of all this DVD is cheap -- less than $7 from most online stores.
I first saw The Freakmaker, then called The Mutations if I remember correctly, as a VHS tape around 1990 or so. It's an interesting film, both outrageous and silly yet also moody and effective. Director Jack Cardiff, the famous cinematographer, gives the film an almost hypnotic style, the extensive make-up effects are extremely good for a low-budget ($400,000) film, and the use of real human oddities adds to its unusualness. One character I never forget was "Popeye" a man who -- you guessed it -- can pop out his eyes. I've always been skittish about going to the eye doctor (strangely enough, going to the dentist has never bothered me) and my eyes are really sensitive to that kind of stuff, so I was suitably impressed with Popeye's "act."
More to come...